DAR ES SALAAM, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Tigo, a unit of emerging markets telecom group Millicom Cellular International , launched on Monday a mobile money transfer service between Tanzania and Rwanda, opening a potentially lucrative market in cross-border mobile transfers.
Tigo has pipped other regional rivals, such as Kenya's Safaricom which led the way in mobile money with its popular M-PESA service but said it had yet to break into the field of cross-border transactions.
Tigo's service allows subscribers in Tanzania and Rwanda to make mobile money transfers and automatically converts them to the new currency, which it said was a world first.
"The system integrates currency conversion, whereby money is sent in either Tanzania Shillings or Rwandan Francs and delivered already converted into in the currency of the recipient's country," Tigo said in a statement.
Tigo Tanzania General Manager Diego Gutierrez said the product was the first "that allows dual currency international mobile wallet to mobile wallet transfers with currency conversion included."
It said the service would benefit trade by helping exporters and importers, and assisting truck drivers and families with family members across the border.
Tigo is Tanzania's third-largest mobile phone operator, with a 23 percent market share in east Africa's second-largest economy, which has around 27 million mobile phone subscribers.
Mobile money transfers, pioneered by Vodafone's Kenya unit Safaricom, has grown rapidly in the region, tapping a market where many people do not have bank accounts, and allowing even small sums to be transferred between individuals or to pay bills.
Safaricom Chief Executive Bob Collymore said his firm did not yet have cross-border transfers capabilities but said it was applying for an international money transfer service from the Kenyan central bank.
For now, he said Kenyans abroad could send money back home through an arrangement with Western Union. (Additional reporting Duncan Miriri in Nairobi; Editing by Edmund Blair)